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A Complete Guide to Catching Snakehead

Snakeheads have gotten a lot of bad press in recent years. Originally from Asia and Africa, they were introduced to US waters in the early 2000s. Since then they have rapidly expanded into the Potomac River and parts of Florida. They look very similar to mudfish and live in the same type of habitat.

While we definitely don’t support the introduction of invasive species, we do think there is some good that comes of the snakehead situation. It turns out they are ferocious predatory fish and are a ton of fun to catch!

So how do you catch snakeheads? We’ve spent hours researching the best ways to catch snakehead in both the Potomac and Florida swamp. Turns out they love many types of bass lures you already have. If you’ve caught largemouth bass before, you are most likely close to being ready to catch snakehead. 

In this article, we’ll briefly cover what Snakeheads are, how they got to the United States. The tackle needed to fish for snakehead, and the best techniques for catching them. So strap in, it’s time to learn how to catch snakehead!

What Are Snakehead?

Snakeheads are a type of freshwater fish that are long and skinny – sort of resembling a snake. They also are often spotted and have scales similar to those of a python. The reason they’re called snakehead, however, is because some species have a bright spot on their tail that they use to fool predators. They flash their tail when intimidated to mimic a larger fish or snake.

Most types of snakehead grow to several feet long and over 15 lbs. Snakeheads are voracious predators and eat all sorts of water creatures. Frogs, insects, baitfish, and mice are common prey for snakeheads.

Authors Note: Adult snakeheads mate up to 5 times a year and can lay over 150,000 eggs. Combining this with their appetite for pretty much anything makes them especially dangerous to introduce to new habitats.

Snakehead received a lot of bad publicity in the early 2000s when they were introduced to the Potomac from a pond in Crofton, Maryland. No one has stepped forward as to who introduced them, but over the past 20 years, their population has exploded in the Potomac and in Florida. While initially considered an ecological disaster, the introduction of snakeheads has proven to not be as damaging as other species (like the Asian carp)

There are several species of snakehead, and the snakehead species commonly found in parts of North America are the smaller northern snakehead, but other species in Asia such as the giant snakehead can grow to very large sizes, and is a much sought after sport fish in places like Thailand.

Tackle Needed for Snakehead

So you’ve decided it’s time to catch some snakehead. Lucky for you, many types of medium tackle will work well for snakeheads. We recommend using a bass spinning reel or a medium-sized baitcasting reel paired with a medium-sized spinning rod or crankbait rod.

As far as the type of line, we think that either 15 to 20 lb braided line with a monofilament leader or a +10 lb monofilament works great. Use a similar fishing line setup as you would for big bass. Snakehead have a harder mouth than bass so the amount of pressure required to set the hook is more. This is also true with mudfish.

Due to their bony mouths, you might want to consider using braided lines that are heavier than you would think to use, like a 20-30 pound test.

Heavier braided lines will ensure that you do not cause knot failure or have your line break when setting the hook hard enough to hook into their bony mouths.

Top Tip: Don’t forget to bring a pair of fishing pliers too – snakehead have rows of razor-sharp teeth in the back of their mouths that make removing a hook dangerous. This is an important part of knowing how to catch snakeheads.

Best Snakehead Lures

snakehead lures

As with bass, snakeheads are natural-born predators. They love the same types of lures and go after similar types of presentations. The Texas Rig, Carolina Rig, and Wacky Worm Rig all work well when fishing for snakehead. For more on how to catch snakehead with these lures, check out the in-depth article we’ve written. The same techniques that work for bass work well for snakeheads.

We’ve also have seen lots of success with topwater lures, especially lures that imitate frogs and small rodents. The added bonus with these topwater frog lures is that they often have their hooks covered. As you’ll soon learn, snakeheads love to live in water that has lots of weeds and cover. This makes using traditional spinning lures and Rapala impossible.

Due to begin ultra-aggressive, topwater lures can really work the best in many cases, and they will absolutely demolish any lure due to having powerful jaws and sharp teeth, this means that you will go through plastic baits quickly, and you will likely need to tune lures like spinnerbaits and buzzbaits regularly.

As far as the topwater frog presentation goes, try and imitate the action a frog makes when it swims across a body of water. Cast the lure past where you think the snakehead is hiding, then flip the lure a couple of feet at a time past them. Make it seem like it’s jumping. When a snakehead hits your lure, it’ll look just like a bass. Do the exact same thing you would do if a bass took your lure – give the line a firm jerk to set the hook.

Live bait also works great for snakeheads. If you have access to a local fishing shop, try and buy either Golden Shiners or shad for snakehead.

Where do Snakehead Live?

The next step in how to catch snakeheads is to find them. Snakeheads love to hang out in the shallow parts of still water with lots of weed cover. This keeps them out of the sun and is where many of their prey like to hang out. As you approach the body of water you plan on fishing, do not stomp or make a ton of noise. Snakehead spook easily and can feel the vibrations of heavy movement. Focus on casting your lures parallel to the bank to optimize you retrieval through the shallower parts of the water.

Author Note: Underwater logs and overhanging trees also make great areas to fish for snakehead. They enjoy hanging out near logs for protection and to surprise their prey. If you’ve fished an area for 15 minutes and haven’t gotten a bite, move on. Since they aren’t schooling fish, if you catch one in one location move on to find more. 

Fishing the Potomac

The mecca for northern snakehead, the stretch of the Potomac from Washington to the Bay has the highest density of the fish. The surrounding creeks, coves, and stiller water areas are the best places to start. You should also check out Leesylvania State Park, Potomac Creek, and Chickamuxen Creek.

Fishing in Florida

The C14 Canal in Broward County has the largest population of snakehead in Florida. Markham Park is another great spot to try first. Another popular canal that is known to have snakehead is the Hillsboro Canal. As with the Potomac, look for portions of water where the current is minimal. Heavy vegetation and cover are also great places to look for snakehead.

When to Fish For Snakehead

Like bass, snakehead can be fished for no matter the season. They are known to be more aggressive in the spring and summer months, but the farther south you go the more they eat year-round. Snakehead in Florida will bite pretty much any time of year.

In the summer months, in particular, snakeheads are usually the most aggressive. The snakehead is a tropical fish that has evolved to flourish in very warm waters with low amounts of oxygen, and as such their metabolisms peak with the hot summer months.

Final Thoughts

Snakehead can be an extremely fun fish to catch. It’s not uncommon to hook into a 15 lb fish in water that’s only a few feet deep. They attack lures you present to them with such fury that it’s something you won’t soon forget. We hope after reading this article you now know how to catch snakehead like a pro. 

Happy Hunting!


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